In the mental ward, you find an assortment of people like you might find anywhere else—what we had in common was how unmanageable our lives had become. This last hospitalization was no different. I remember one I’ll call Katy, with the dreamy look in her eyes and short blond hair, had substance abuse issues. Some were suffering from schizophrenia, borderline personality, or unipolar depression like Jackie, who was grieving the loss of his fiancee to suicide. And there was Carson, an older, tall, dirtyblond-haired lady in the grip of paranoid delusions about her children, her ex-husband, and the co-workers she had over the years.
A few caveats. I have never been in facilities that housed violent individuals. I have never undergone shock treatment. I have never been through drug and alcohol rehab, that not being among my problems. And I have been committed against my will only once. So I can’t speak to some things that others may have experienced in those situations. But I do know my own experience.
The first day is always suicide watch if you come in with suicidal thoughts as your complaint. That involves checks every 15 minutes for 24 hours. If you stay out in the patient areas where the nurses can see you, it’s not too intrusive. But I wanted to sleep. That was one of my most aggravating symptoms—the sleepiness that no amount of sleep could fix. But I kept trying. So I would walk down the hall to my room to sleep, only to be checked on within five minutes or so. Usually it was just a tap on the door and my responding “I’m okay,” would do. But at night, they’d open the door and let the hallway light into the room, at times waking me up. And I’d just get back to sleep when the inevitable tap came again.
We interacted with each other, the nurses, the psychiatric techs, and social workers during my stay. During one session of expressive therapy, the jovial heavyset crafts lady asked us to draw our problems as mountains and draw our schemes for overcoming them. I drew angry black, brown, and red mountains topped with jagged snowcaps. I labeled them “depression”, “anger” and “anxiety”. “Anger” was the largest as it was my anger at myself that had driven me to the hospital this time. I colored in green grass at the bottom of the mountains and myself on the right side of the paper, having climbed my way there, in my favorite red dress and red high heels. Other people drew butterflies and flowers at the tops of their mountains. Katy drew herself in full camping gear halfway across her mountains. We then showed our pictures to the class and explained what the images symbolized.
I remember finally being able to go outside into the restricted park area after two days because the rain had finally stopped and the air had warmed up just a little. I heard Katy breathe, ”This is heaven. Thank you, Jesus,” as we walked outside to the fresh air.
This visit I wound up in several domino games, both with experts and novices. A young guy I’ll call Johnny schooled me on “jailhouse rules” while we played the regular way, with him scoring fifteen points for every ten I scored before him. I learned how to tell a novice from an expert—a novice stacked up their dominoes on the table with the dots facing inward, while an expert held four in one hand and three in the other against their knuckles facing outward.